Bowles’ uniform of suits and ties belies his past
penchant for John Galliano men’s skirts.
was certainly much more adventurous in the way I dressed
in the ‘80s," said Bowles, Vogue international
editor at large. "I think the first time (Vogue
editor) Anna (Wintour) clapped eyes on me, I was wearing
two Chanel jackets, one over the other as a twin set,
and a kind of bifurcated skirt-pant, with an Hermes
scarf as a pirate bandanna. For self-evident reasons,
she didn’t offer me a job."
skirt off his back side. Bowles, then fashion editor at
Harpers & Queen, was traveling the world on fashion
shoots with photographer Mario Testino.
then Anna called completely out of the blue in ’92 and
asked me to come and work for (American) Vogue," he
vintage fashion collection has grown as renowned as his
writing. The hobby, inspired by boyhood trips to the
Victoria and Albert Museum’s Costume Court in London,
now encompasses 3,500 pieces and has earned him the
unofficial title of resident fashion historian at Vogue.
recent acquisition is an 1860s Charles Frederick Worth
dress. "It’s an evening bodice and bustled skirt
in powder blue with sort of ocher yellow and terra cotta
pink — very Jamesian," Bowles said.
was referring to another designer known for his use of
color, Charles James, whose work stars in a new exhibit
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. James, too, is
represented in Bowles’ collection, which has become a
resource for museums and fashion students. Because of
that, he’s planning to set it up as a nonprofit.
it all started when I was 8, buying Victorian purses
with my meager allowance — about 50 cents a
week," he said.
illuminated his life of style on a recent trip to
Chicago; this is an edited transcript.
How did your fashion hobby lead to a fashion job?
When I was 14, I entered British Vogue’s annual talent
contest and got a special mention. I went up to London
to meet the editors and wrote about it in my high school
magazine. So the die was cast quite early.
Where do you find these vintage women’s pieces?
There’s now a huge vintage wearable market, so I have
to be much more of a sleuth. Luckily, at this point, I
have a pretty extensive visual memory for magazine
iconography and images. I’ve found a lot of unlabeled
pieces. I literally in the New York flea market — just
when I was despairing of ever having a great
serendipitous find — found a 1926 Chanel. And some
designers are now giving me pieces, which is really
Who are some of the freshest design talents?
Christopher Kane’s fall collection was really
powerful, especially his finale dress of layers of
organza meant to look as though you were briskly
flipping through the pages of a book. In New York, I
like the idea of Hood by Air, very kind of street
culture translated to the runway. Delpozo, out of
Madrid, makes very couture-quality, fastidiously crafted
What’s your most prized accessory?
My lilac-faced Rolex, a birthday present from some dear
friends. I had a lilac-themed party to celebrate a big
birthday last year (his 50th).
What grounds you at home in New York?
My interior is very, very dense — Proustian-looking,
sort of Henry James. The walls are covered in pictures,
and I transformed the big drawing room into a library
lined with books. It’s full of things that have a lot
of personal history and resonance for me, reminding me
of people I love or have revered.
What’s one thing at home you can’t live without?
A drypoint etching by Etienne Drian. I bought it with
most of my first term’s grant money when I was at
(Central) St. Martins and kind of had to live on
crackers and peanut butter for the rest of the term.
What’s one indulgence?
Spending money on my own clothes when I should be buying
things for my collection. I just had a suit made by
Cifonelli, a storied tailoring firm in Paris. It was
extraordinary seeing the process and then a suit appears
that just fits you like a glove.
What was your most recent wardrobe purchase?
A pair of beautiful tasseled loafers in Marrakech from
Topolina. They are all made out of chintzes or African
What music do you listen to?
Helen Forrest and Al Bowlly, a lot of ‘30s and ‘40s
What do you wish men would wear more of?
I wish they’d be more daring with color. The most
adventurous dressers are those incredible dandies in
Congo. A photographer went and documented them, and the
pictures were literally on every single designer’s
inspiration board because you have these fantastic guys
wearing, like, a hot pink suit with a hot pink hat and
hot pink tie and shoes to match. There’s this whole
culture of outdoing each other, and it seems to be a
very heterosexual thing.
What are you wearing now?
The jacket is Berluti; I love the fabric; it sort of
looks like a New York street grid scene from above,
through the clouds. The pants I think are Etro.
What do you wear lounging?
What I’m wearing now.
Oh God, no. This is extreme comfort wear for me. I don’t
have an off-duty wardrobe.